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Mayor Daly's Partisan Tie to Political Boss

Profile: Job with Democrat Sanchez lands Anaheim leader in hot seat.

May 07, 1997|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — He has made a career in this city as a discreet Orange County Democrat, building bridges with powerful Republicans in the name of nonpartisanship. But now Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly is taking sides, just as he considers his first run at countywide political office.

Since January, Daly has been quietly running the California office of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), drawing a $30,000-a-year salary to build the new congresswoman's political operation from the ground up.

The move by Daly--which Sanchez advisors say has been critical to her political survival--is drawing the deliberative mayor into a glare of intense criticism and charges of conflict of interest.

Republicans, once his allies, are now jumping to brand him as a liberal, seeking to weaken what could be a strong potential candidacy in 1998 for the Board of Supervisors seat now held by William G. Steiner.

For the hometown Anaheim politician who has led the county's second largest city through a boom as the region's top sports and entertainment moneymaker, the job with Sanchez is bringing challenges. The pragmatic Harvard graduate with a reputation as more problem solver than ideologue has long been one of the few prominent Orange County Democrats to resist Republican pressure to change his party. And he has long supported Sanchez behind the scenes. Indeed, Sanchez credits Daly with convincing her to run for Congress.

But in his public role, first as councilman, then mayor, Daly has scrupulously maintained ties with local Republicans, garnering major contributions to his campaigns from conservative business owners, including waste company giant William Taormina and Anaheim Realtor Paul Kott. He led majority council votes that kept the California Angels in the city, brought the Mighty Ducks hockey franchise to Anaheim and made possible a billion-dollar expansion of Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center.

"Tom historically has not had a partisan nature," said former state Assemblyman Tom Umberg, an Orange County Democrat who ran President Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign in California. "He has the integrity to know who he is, but he's more of a problem solver than a politician, that's why he has been able to attract support on both sides of the aisle. I remember years ago when I told Gary Hunt of the Irvine Co. that Tom was a Democrat. Gary almost fell off his chair."

But if Daly downplayed his Democratic roots in the past, those days are gone. As special projects advisor to Sanchez, a vaguely defined title that gives him broad authority, Daly is in the thick of "basically anything that we're doing," Sanchez chief of staff Steve Jost said. The job technically is part time, but the Anaheim mayor has been working for Sanchez from early in the morning until late at night. He has done everything from finding office space and equipment for Sanchez's local operation to hiring a district representative and support staff.

With former Rep. Robert K. Dornan contesting the election, Sanchez has not been able to rely on the customary cooperation afforded a new officeholder by a predecessor, making it particularly critical that she have an experienced hand at the helm of her local operation, Daly said.

Most important, the politician with deep roots in Orange County business and political circles is helping Sanchez network among her newly won constituents. Since taking the job, Daly has created advisory committees for Sanchez made up of county leaders in business, education and public safety. He also acts as political advisor for her young and relatively inexperienced staff on a host of issues.

"He's like our window into local politics. We rely on him to give us information about what's happening locally," said Nancy Ramirez, whom Daly hired as district director. "He knows all the players and he's been great in giving us background."

Anaheim City Atty. Jack L. White said Daly's job with Sanchez is not improper, as some Republicans contend. While city offices in California are technically nonpartisan, local politicians are not prohibited from working with political parties. It is not uncommon for local officeholders to work for county or federal officials while they are in office.

But other Anaheim city officials say privately that they worry Daly's job with Sanchez could preclude him from voting on some city issues. And some local Republicans, among them Anaheim Councilmen Bob Zemel and Lou Lopez and Republican consultant Frank Caternicchio, have been quick to criticize Daly's move.

"His role with Mrs. Sanchez Brixey has been so very close, so very close, and [her operation] is the definitive liberal Democrat arena of today's Orange County politics," County Republican Party Chairman Tom Fuentes said. "You have to wonder where his allegiance lies."

Last week, Daly's job put him in a particularly uncomfortable spot when city leaders launched an attack on Sanchez after she reserved her support for a federal program in the city.

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